Disclaimer: The M7 guys belong to Trilogy, Mirisch and MGM.
Comment: In response to Challenge #28 on the Chrisfic page, where Mary and Ella clash over the leader of the pack!
Feedback: Always welcome at email@example.com
Ella looked the pretty blonde up and down as she chatted easily to Mrs. Potter outside her office. During her short time in town she had had little direct contact with the Clarion editor, but she knew that they could never get on. She had seen and heard slight hints of her close friendship with Chris and this irritated Ella more than anything. However, it would not be the case for much longer. Chris had agreed to come with her to the ranch, supposedly for a few days, but Ella knew that he would never leave. Fate ordered them to be together, and she would not let him get away this time. There was a faint sneer playing about her lips when Mary glanced over at her. Gloria had left her to go about her own business, and Mary had work to do.
Youll soon have something interesting to write about in your little paper.
Much as she wanted to, she could not ignore the sneering jibe. And Mary would never let anyone slight her newspaper or her way of life. Her blue eyes flashed over to see the scorn-filled face of Ella Gaines looking back at her. She forced herself to hold her tongue, and allowed only one sound to escape.
Ella stepped forward, her rich skirts swishing around her ankles. The sneer seemed to become more mocking with each rustling step. Marys lips tightened together and she slowly inhaled a deep breath through her nose, all the while trying to appear calm and composed in the face of her arch-enemy. For that was what Ella had become in her short stay in town. All right, so nothing had actually happened between Mary and Chris in oh, how many years? There was definitely something between them, and Mary recognized Ella as the woman to threaten that something the most. The problem was that Ella recognized that fact too.
How about The Disappearance of the Notorious Gunslinger, Chris Larabee for your next exclusive headline?
Marys eyes unconsciously widened. Disappearance? She blinked quickly to steady herself. What did she mean by that? What did she have planned for him? Mary knew very little of the woman in front of her, but instinct told her that she was used to having her own way in life. Chris had spent most of his time with her since her arrival in town, and he had been smiling a lot more than usual. Hell, Ella could bring that gorgeous grin to his face much more easily than Mary ever could, no matter how hard she tried. She tilted her head a little to ask in a tight voice,
There was a low laugh, and Ella looked around the town as the suns rays spread through its street. She knew too that she had quickly become this womans rival, and she played her role well. There were only a few inches between their faces now, and Ellas eyes seemed to see right through Mary to her very soul.
You can say goodbye to him now because you wont be seeing him again.
It was said in a voice low enough for only Mary to hear, even though there was no one within striking distance. Her eyes made that inadvertent movement again before she knew it, and the words were immediately imprinted on her mind. The thought of never seeing Chris again had never crossed her mind, not since the early days of the sevens arrival in town. Then, she had expected them to ride out after their initial mission was over, each going his separate way into the unknown. But now, she could not imagine the town without them. She didnt want to think about it! Life in Four Corners without Chris? It brought a cold feeling to her heart, to think that she may not see him every day, sitting outside the saloon, doing his normal things.
Ellas eyes continue to bore through her, making her feel even more uncomfortable. She shifted uneasily and swallowed hard. Ellas hand moved to cover her mouth in an obvious expression of mock surprise.
Oh, my! she gasped, with sarcasm dripping off the syllables. Didnt he tell you? Why, I thought you two knew everything about one other!
Marys nostrils flared, showing her discontent at the remark. Ella was hitting her right where it hurt! She knew that Chris played his cards close to his chest and that Mary only caught glimpses of the hands that he had played and of the hands he had been dealt in the past.
He has no reason to stay in this one-horse backwater, has he?
The initial concern diminished and temper rose in its place, fast. It threatened to blow a fuse at any minute, if this mockery was to continue. To those who did not know her, she appeared cool and collected. Her friends would have seen the warning signs and known to back off while they still had time to run. Their conversation was not long, but already Ella had insulted her newspaper, her way of life, and now her town. And if there was one thing Mary did not appreciate, it was people who insulted her town.
I think you should take that back.
Gaines congratulated herself. She was riling the unflappable editor, and enjoying every second of it! Why not have some fun before leaving town?
Oh, I do apologize! Its not a one-horse backwater any more, is it? Its a booming industrial metropolis! Why, look around you! Look at all those banks, hotels and casinos!
She waved her hands in the general direction of the saloon and laughed aloud in Marys face. She quickly found an inky finger waving right in front of her nose.
We may not be New Orleans, but were growing! We dont need fancy casinos here to show that we live in a thriving town!
Excellent! This would be fun!
JD was half-asleep in his office when the sound of raised voices in the street roused him from his early morning nap. He tilted his hat back and dragged his feet off the table. Surely that wasnt Marys voice he could hear? He stood up and moved around the table to look out the door and confirm his suspicions. He could clearly see Marys excited face, but not that of the lady with her. Was it Ella? Whoever it was, she sighed and flexed her fingers out in front of her, admiring her nails.
Even if this was New Orleans, Chris wouldnt have anything to stay for.
Before Mary could butt in, she added the most important part of her opinion.
Marys jaw fell open. Now it was getting to the nitty-gritty, personal side.
Whats that supposed to mean?
Ella laughed again. JD wanted to laugh too! Two women arguing in the street wasnt an everyday occurrence in Four Corners. He would have laughed, only Mary was one of the two. It had to be serious to annoy her like that. And just what did Ella mean about Chris? He quietly made his way over to the saloon to inform his friends. Before he got there, Buck met him at the door, emerging from one of Inezs famous breakfasts. The sight caught his attention too.
Whats going on, kid?
Ella fluttered her eyelashes at Mary and smiled sweetly at her.
Oh, you know what I mean.
No, I dont, Mary lied, wanting Gaines to spell it out. The young sheriff and his friend made their way over as it got interesting.
Well, all I mean is that a woman like me has no competition around here for Chriss attention.
The mens eyes locked. Were these two fighting over Chris? It certainly made a change from a drunken brawl in the saloon! Marys eyebrows knitted into a frown. Ha! Now Gaines was insulting half the towns population! Her hands were on her hips now, almost digging into her side in frustration and rage.
You think youre better than the women around here?
No, Mrs. Travis, I dont, she replied in the same arrogant tone. Mary relaxed a little.
I know Im better.
Mary slapped her. Right on the cheek. She didnt even realize she had done it until she heard the stinging smack sound out. Bucks jaw flew open, along with JDs. Had Mary really done that? Mary??? If they had possessed their senses for a few seconds longer, they would have run to their comrades broadcasting the dramatic unfolding events on the boardwalk. Seeing that they had temporarily lost those senses, they merely stood and watched Ella touch her afflicted cheek with a tender hand. Mary gave a slight gasp and stepped backwards.
Well! Ella exclaimed. Clearly you think that you have something to offer Chris!
Mary fumed, anger biling in her throat. Chris is happy here!
Ha! The guffaw of ignorant laughter was her only response.
Hes got a job! Hes got friends here!
You think thats what a man like Chris Larabee needs? A job? Friends? Ellas expression clearly stated her opinion on the matter.
We all need friends, Mary said simply.
What about love, huh? Has Chris got that here?
Buck and JD held their breath, awaiting Traviss response. It was like watching a gunfight in the middle of the street. Their eyes went rapidly from one side to another, waiting for someone to make the final fatal move. Josiah and Nathan had sauntered over from the church, and had caught Ellas question. They too wondered what Mary would say, and their eyes searched her face for an answer. But Mary found that she couldnt say the words she dearly wanted to. Ella continued.
I can give him all the love he needs. Hell have a ranch, and everything he could ever wish for. Lets not beat about the bush here, Mary. Can you really offer him anything he needs?
Mary breathed slowly through tight lips. Ive had to work for everything I own today, and Im proud of what Ive got. It may not be a fine ranch, or a bank full of riches or jewellery, but its all Ive got. I built it up with my husband, and Ive kept it alive in his memory, so dont you dare slight it!
At least I wont have to work to put food on the table for Chris!
Some of us have the brains to work!
Are you trying to say youre smarter than me?
Oh, I know I am, Mary threw her own comment back in her face.
Ezra was lazily making his way over to the jail after breakfast when he saw the commotion. His quizzical expression was answered by a hurried Shush! from both Buck and JD.
Ive done a lot more with my life than you could ever imagine, Ella hinted.
Or than I would ever want to know.
At least Im the one doing it, and not writing about it!
By now, a small crowd of amused townsfolk had gathered around the antagonists, with respective oohs and aahs with each verbal slap. Now breaking through them were the five peacekeepers present, who had finally remembered what they were getting paid for in town.
Ladies, perhaps you should take this inside Buck suggested with a gentlemanly smile and wave of the arms. Neither lady took any notice of him.
It is somewhat unladylike to have an altercation in the main thoroughfare of the municipality, Ezra agreed, but was hastily interrupted by both.
Shut up, Ezra!
At least they agreed on something! The brief break in arguing gave Mary her chance to start.
What makes you think that Chris would want to leave with you? shouted a furious editor. You waltz in here and expect to take up where you left off years ago? Just who do you think you are? Do you expect Chris to come running after you like some little dog?
If he does, its only because he wants to, Ella retorted. That was exactly what she expected Chris to do!
Then why didnt he stay with you first time round? blasted Mary. That hurt. That was Ellas sore point.
Chris is like a wild horse. He needs to break away at times, explained Ella defiantly. So I let him have his freedom for a while. Now its time for him to come back.
What if he doesnt want to?
He loves me; hell want to.
As all this was going on, the man in question was finishing his breakfast with his best friend. Vin leaned back in his chair in the quiet of the saloon, and caught the noise outside. If it was serious, the others would have told them, he thought. He stood up and wandered over to the door to look out.
Eat up, cowboy, looks like we got work to do.
The last swallow of coffee was hurriedly taken and Larabee was on his feet right away, hand on his holster before he and Vin pushed the doors out in front of them.
They could not immediately see who was in the centre of the scuffle, but the high indigo colored hat and blonde hair were clear to be seen from their position. Surely Mary and Ella were not fighting? No! Both Tanner and Larabee put such a thought from their minds as soon as it entered. And yet, the closer they came, they could see that no one else was involved. What had the two ladies to fight over? Larabee could not figure it out. And why on earth were the young sheriff, the healer, the preacher, the gambler and the ladies man not doing anything to stop it?
Did he say he loves you? Mary asked, hoping for a negative response.
He doesnt have to. I know how he feels.
Who were they talking about? Larabee pushed through the group of bystanders to get closer to the action. Wilmington took a quick look to see who was next to him and saw that it was just Chris. Hang on, Chris was here? He took his second glance and confirmed his suspicions. Oh boy!
Whats going on, Buck?
Besides, Mary, why are you so worried? You already have six other lawmen here, isnt that enough?
Buck? Wilmington made no response to his friends tap on the shoulder.
Thats not the point. Mary looked at the wood under their feet.
So what is the point?
Mary did not respond.
Well? You have no reason to worry about the security of this town if Chris leaves.
Whats this all about?
Thats not the point and you know it! Mary cried.
Its not the security of the town thats bothering you, is it? Well, if its male company youre after, I hear you spend a lot of time alone with Chriss good friend already you know, the one in the buckskin?
Vin? Travis whispered in shock at the insinuation. The initial sneer returned to Ellas face.
The fuse blew.
You can take that smirk of your face this minute. You know why I spend a lot of time alone with Vin, and you know damn well whats bothering me.
Do I? she asked innocently with a girlish fluttering of eyelashes.
I love Chris; Im not ashamed to admit that. But I cant stand by and watch you hurt him when I know how hes been hurt before. I dont know what your motives are, but he doesnt deserve to be picked up and thrown away like a doll whenever you feel like it. Underneath that cold, hard gunslinger front is a good, warm-hearted, kind, caring man. He doesnt want to get hurt again, so he cant afford to get close to anyone, least of all another woman. Sarah broke his heart, and I know how that feels. But I had Billy to get me through; he had no one. Now, if he loves you, thats fine, because all that matters to me is his happiness. But if he doesnt, then leave him here, where hes happy. He may never love me, but I can live with it.
The laughter and crowing of the audience stopped when they realized that this woman was serious. Deadly serious. Gloria Potter softly smiled at her good friend. At last! It had taken a while for Mary to admit the fact to herself, let alone her confidante. And now, she was freely telling anyone who would listen. Including one Christopher Larabee, who stood transfixed. He was about to step in to diffuse the situation when Vins reading lessons were mentioned. And if that hadnt caught his attention, then Marys words certainly had.
Mary was only interrupted by the entrance of her son Billy. It was quite a shock for him to see just what she was up to.
Marys eyes unwillingly left those of Ella to look down at her son. He broke through the crowd and she hunched down beside him to assure him that things were all right.
Why are you fighting?
She sighed. She had always told her son to turn the other cheek in the face of enemies. What kind of example was she giving him now? She put both hands on his shoulders and looked deep into his eyes, with a look of love that only he knew.
Sweetheart, you go back inside, and Ill be right behind you, okay?
He trusted her implicitly, nodded, threw a tough glance at the cold face of Ella and left them to it. As soon as the door shut, Ella threw the next verbal punch.
That ended it for Mary. She reached for the hat, yanked it off, and then wrenched the head of fine hair till it felt that it would come off, stopped only by the strong hands of Josiah and Nathan, who had finally come around from their temporary helplessness.
Youre not worth it! the editor screamed. She marched up to her door, yanked it open and slammed it shut behind her so that its glass shook.
Ella wriggled her way out of Nathans arms and gasped for breath. Well! There was no need for such behavior! She shook her head in disgust, and began to brush herself off. Honestly! Some people! She would have to go back to her room and get changed after such an embarrassing display. And her hat was ruined!
Chris visibly staggered away from the scene. Alone.
Mary made her way through the familiar office, into her home, took Billy in her arms and hugged him close. He didnt ask the reason behind the sudden show of emotion, but just hugged her back. Mommy would explain it all and everything would be all right.
The townspeople, seeing that the show was over, bunched together in their familiar groups and made their way about their normal business.
The peacekeepers were left alone outside the firmly shut door of the Clarion.
How does he do it? Buck wondered, mystified.
Guess its that animal maggotism, JD offered.
Magnetism, Kid, mag-net-ism, his elder corrected.
Some time later, Chris emerged from the quietness of the livery, where he had been having a long think. The street was quiet now after the earlier fuss. He looked from the boarding house to the Clarion door. He had business to take care of.
7-7-7-7-7-7-7 The six were firmly planted in the saloon, replaying the mornings episode.
I still cant figure how he does it, sighed Buck, wishing he could find a couple of ladies to fight over him.
I wish Id taken bets on it, grumbled Ezra, now that he had regained full use of his senses.
We still have to find out who the winner is, Josiah added.
Aw, thats easy, JD smiled, leaning comfortably back in his chair. Five pairs of eyes flashed at him.
It is? they asked.
Mr. Dunne, pray enlighten us!
Cant yall figure it out?
Well, began Vin, Mary loves him.
Ella says she loves him too, added Nathan.
She does have the ranch, Josiah said grimly.
And Chris would love a ranch, Buck groaned.
And she is beautiful, Ezra complimented.
And rich, Vin agreed.
Kid, how do you know who the winner is?
Like I said, its easy. Chris is the winner!
Five groans were his only response.
Mary was sitting with yesterdays newspaper on her lap when the office door opened. The page had not turned for a time, but it had served a purpose to catch the falling tears. Billy felt helpless, not fully understanding what she had told him. He was glad to see a grown-up come to make her feel better.
She guessed it would be Buck, the good comforter of all women in distress. Mary rubbed an unladylike hand across her eyes in a pathetic effort to appear unaffected.
Im fine, she croaked, with her back to him.
Dont look fine, Chris replied.
Mary stood, swung around and dropped the paper all in one swift action. Dammit, she hadnt expected to see him so soon! Couldnt he just go and leave her be? Couldnt he see how hurt she was? But, when she thought about it, she didnt want him to go away and leave her be. She didnt want him to leave at all, but if thats what he wanted, then she would have to stand by and watch him do it. Best to make this farewell short and to the point. There would be plenty of time to think over it later, when Chris Larabee would be out of her life.
Billy, could you let me speak to Chris?
The obedient child did as told and went outside. When the door clicked shut behind him Mary took a breath and spoke calmly.
Guess youve come to say goodbye.
Chris looked down at the floor and removed his hat. She wanted to cry, but refused to let him see that he could hurt her that much.
Well, goodbye then, Mary said limply with a huge lump in her throat, evident in her voice. She tried to appear cool and aloof, but it didnt really work. She offered him her hand, but he did not acknowledge the gesture. He merely looked up from the floor into her sad blue eyes. Could he really do this to her, the woman who had become a fast friend over the years?
Sometimes, Mary, for a smart editor, you can be real stupid.
The lump in her throat disappeared and shock came in its place. Not only leaving her, but adding insult to injury!! This was uncalled for! Her hand fell again and came to rest in an angry pose on her hips.
Whats that supposed to mean? she demanded.
Figure it out.
Was that a damned twinkle in those flashing green eyes she loved?
If Im so damned stupid, I think youd better spell it out. We may be a while if I have to figure it out all by myself.
He smiled. Oh, God, Ill never see that smile again. Why does he have to smile at me now, when Im feeling so weak and helpless?
Im not saying goodbye to you.
Well, if he wanted to be ignorant about it
I said goodbye to Ella.
What did he say?
What did you say?
Again, that twinkle played in his eyes. He was playing a hurtful tune on her heart strings, and he knew it.
Shes gone, Mary.
Was she dreaming? She unconsciously brought her hand up from her hip and folded her arms, not wanted to pinch herself outwardly.
I heard everything you said out there. He sighed, swung his hat around in his hands and shook his head. Wish Id known your feelings earlier. Wish Id had the guts to say it to you.
Ha! Chris Larabee, the cold, merciless gunslinger, wished he had guts like her! This was hilarious! But what was he talking about? What had she said? What had he heard? The whole business had happened so quickly it had seemed like a mini whirlwind had gone through town. She couldnt remember anything she had said. And what did he mean about Ella?
Ah say what? she asked to be reminded. He looked right in her expressive blue eyes, and saw that she was not playing a game. Well, game-playing wasnt exactly Marys style.
You said you he paused and tilted his head awkwardly.
You said that you
What? Spit it out!
You said that you loved me? he told her in a question.
Her jaw dropped and her eyebrows shot up. She said what?? In front of everyone? Oh good God, the shame!
Well, dont you? he said nervously, wondering if he had totally misconstrued the mornings happenings.
I I suppose she stuttered.
You suppose? his eyebrows arched up under his fringe.
What? he demanded, trying to avoid giving her the Larabee glare.
Dammit, Mary, what do you mean?
Dammit, Chris, I mean I love you!
Their eyes locked together, not in a look of love but in a look of absolute disbelief.
You just did it again, Chris began.
Blurted it out without thinking about it.
Oh. Mary rubbed her hand across her forehead and sat down tiredly. It was still early, but so much had happened today! Chris was pretty worn out too, and turned to leave his hat on the table and tousle his hair before asking his next question.
Do you mean it? Chris had to know before he could say anything in return.
Not this conversation again!
Do you mean that you love me?
Yes, she replied clearly. At last! A sensible discussion! They studied one anothers faces for some time.
Has she really gone? Mary asked in surprise. Chris nodded.
And youre staying?
Again he nodded.
He came forward and took her hands, pulling her back up to her feet.
And ? Now she had to ask the question.
And? he prompted.
Damn, this conversation was really dragging out. If this bush was beat any more, there would be very little of it left! Mary decided to hurry it along.
Do you love me?
Wow! She smiled up at him in surprise, and at last she brought that gorgeous grin to his face without even trying.
Im all yours. He looked her honestly in the eye. Now she had to be dreaming!!
Note: Im sure youll agree that Ella wouldnt disappear so easily. Im also sure many of you readers would be real happy for him to turn up and say Im all yours!!